Mme M. G. Dortu, Le Vésinet (acquired by 1931)
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1985
Paris, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Exposition Rétrospective de l'œuvre de H. Toulouse-Lautrec, 1914, no. 98
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Exposition H. de Toulouse-Lautrec trentenaire, 1931, no. 186
London, M. Knoedler & Co., Toulouse-Lautrec: Paintings and Drawings. Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the Musée d’Albi, France, 1938, no. 30 (with incorrect measurements)
Paris, Galerie Knoedler & Cie., Toulouse-Lautrec. Exposition au profit et avec le concours du Musée d'Albi, 1938, no. 48
Basel, Kunsthalle, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1947, no. 192
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1947, no. 57
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1947, no. 57
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie des Tuileries, Toulouse-Lautrec en l'honneur du cinquantenaire anniversaire de sa mort, 1951, no. 82
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, ses Amis et ses Maîtres; commémoration par le Musée Albi du cinquantième anniversaire de la mort du peintre, 1951, no. 136
Maurice Joyant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1926, vol. I, illustrated p. 213
Emile Schaub-Koch, Psychanalyse d’un peintre moderne: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1935, mentioned p. 191
New Chronicle, 19th January 1938
Jacques Lassaigne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1939, illustrated p. 139
M. G. Dortu, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1952, fig. 63, illustrated p. 10
M. G. Dortu, Madeleine Grillaert & Jean Adhémar, Toulouse-Lautrec en Belgique, Paris, 1955, illustrated in colour pl. 31
M. G. Dortu, Toulouse-Lautrec et son œuvre, New York, 1971, vol. III, no. 710, illustrated p. 435
Gabriele M. Sugana, Tout l’œuvre peint de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, 1986, no. 648, illustrated p. 128
Toulouse-Lautrec (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London & Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1991-92, mentioned p. 471
A brilliant interpreter of his time, Toulouse-Lautrec did not limit himself – as so many of his contemporaries did – to social critique. Instead, in painting images of the demi-monde he sought to capture the timeless humanity that lay beneath the façade of his subjects. Fascinated by figures in closed surrounding, he produced works that are remarkable not only for their technical and formal achievements, but also for their psychological acuity. His sensitive depictions of the uneventful daily routine of the prostitutes, their attempts to relieve the boredom of the waits between clients and their quiet, personal moments are amongst his best paintings. The women’s naturalness appealed to Lautrec: ‘Models always look as if they were stuffed; these women are alive. I wouldn’t dare pay them to pose for me, yet God knows they’re worth it. […] they’re so lacking in pretension’ (quoted in Henri Perruchot, Toulouse-Lautrec, London, 1960, p. 157).
The subject of La toilette is a prostitute known by the name Madame Poupoule, whom Toulouse-Lautrec painted in several portraits from 1897 until shortly before his death in 1901 (figs. 1 & 2). As in the present work, she is always shown in a private, contemplative moment, dominated by an introspective atmosphere. Here she is depicted seated at her dressing table, in an intimate setting that was favoured by many Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists including Renoir (fig. 3) and Degas (fig. 4). The sitter is captured in a three-quarter profile, positioning the artist and the viewer just behind her, as if respecting the intimacy of the scene. This angle captures Madame Poupoule’s voluminous figure and her long, flowing hair which partially hides her face. With her arms elegantly stretched on the table in front of her, the model appears to be absorbed in this quiet, introspective moment, probably observing herself in a mirror. Her facial expression and mood that would be reflected in the mirror are tantalisingly hidden from the viewer. Lautrec has used his characteristic palette here, combining the warm reddish and brown tones with deep blue and green.
The first owner of the present work was the art dealer Maurice Joyant (1864-1930). Having met Toulouse-Lautrec at the lycée, Joyant became a close personal friend, promoted his art throughout his career and organised exhibitions of his work. In 1893 Joyant staged the first retrospective of Toulouse-Lautrec's work at his Paris gallery Boussod, Valadon et Cie, followed by numerous exhibitions both in France and abroad. In 1926-27 he published the artist’s biography in two volumes, in which the present work is illustrated. After Toulouse-Lautrec’s death in 1901 Joyant was put in charge of his estate, and was instrumental in establishing the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec at Albi, the artist’s birthplace, which today owns the most extensive collection of his work.
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